Contractors seeking CoR certification discover challenges on the path to safety compliance recognition

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Results worth the effort in qualifying for major clients’ projects

Ontario Construction Report staff writer

Ontario contractors seeking to obtain Certificate of Recognition (COR) safety compliance status are discovering challenges on the pathway to success in the certification system that increasingly is becoming a prerequisite to bid on important projects.

Paul Casey, vice-president programs and strategic development with the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association of Ontario (IHSA), which administers the CoR program, says some contractors, on learning that they cannot bid on work because they lack its qualifications, discover that it isn’t a quick fix – they will need to through a challenging six-month to one-year process to achieve the certification, but once the certification is achieved, the overall advantages are well worth the effort.

In part because an increasing number of valuable clients are requiring CoR as a prerequisite, the IHSA has reported a surge in CoR applications.

The program has moved beyond early adaptors and these businesses – often smaller and medium-sized contractors with a single person responsible for health and safety administration – have discovered that CoR requirements for verifiable systems go beyond simple regulatory compliance, and require time and effort to implement properly.

“CoR is an extensive program with a very high standard,” said David Frame, the Ontario General Contractors’ Association (OGCA) director of government relations. “When you have achieved CoR you haven’t just put a safety program in place, but safety is integrated into all aspects of how you do business.”

“You don’t just plug that in and take a few course and make a few changes and it’s done,” Frame said. “For most companies it’s a big change. It’s going to take a while for some companies to change their culture and recognize the extent of change CoR represents before they are going to get there.”

Frame said 21 OGCA members have achieved CoR certification and 40 are in the process. Some of the 40 are running into challenges in completing the program, so the association has co-ordinated a mentoring workshop on June 11 where members who have completed CoR certification can demonstrate to their peers how they’ve made it through the program.

CoR elements providing the greatest challenge include hazard analysis and control, safe job procedures, preventative maintenance, statistics and records and management review.

“We will be working through these elements using both small table group discussions, along with panel discussions to assist with the transfer of information,” the OGCA said in a members’ bulletin describing the event.

Paul Casey at the IHSA says the challenge – and value – in achieving CoR certification is that organizations really need to have consistent, documented and regular updates to their safety processes and systems. However, the process, while challenging, doesn’t need to be overwhelming in part because the program has been designed to scale to the size and character of the contractor’s business.

At the outset, there are three courses. The first an $80-per person half-day program, where the person within the organization responsible for the CoR auditing process and a senior executive must participate, explains program’s commitments and expectations.

The individual designated as the CoR internal auditor then takes a free course on basic auditing principles, before completing a full day program on CoR requirements.

Overall, the initial training costs $320, Casey said.

The next stage (and fee) requires a desk audit from the IHSA, which occurs once the company’s CoR auditor thinks the business is ready for certification. There is a rating system and if the self-audit indicates an 80 per cent score, then the contractor pays the $250 fee for this audit. The desk audit sets the stage – and reduces the risk of failure – at the final, most expensive stage.

In the first year, the IHSA conducts a full-scale field audit, with a $1,150 fee per day. The audit can require two or three days to complete.

Most businesses – about 90 per cent – succeed with their field audit, Casey reports.

In the relatively rare situations where there is a failure on inspection, he said, the contractor may not have been consistently applying the safety principles.

In one case, a contractor had three sites, Casey said. When the auditor visited one site, everything was in order. But at another, there were serious gaps, validated by photographs and interviews – where “hazards were not controlled, people weren’t tying off, there were major problems,” Casey said. “The owners were totally unaware.”

The IHSA and the company worked on an action plan to remedy the deficiencies, and when the auditors returned in three months, they found the company had indeed put the correct systems in place and approved the CoR certification.

Casey said the severity of the first “fail” can vary when it occurs, but the IHSA will work on guiding the business to solve the issues and doesn’t generally charge extra for the follow-up process.

This means that while there are significant time and energy requirements in initially setting up the systems for CoR compliance, once things are running properly, the systems are reasonably easy to maintain, and overall compliance costs are not excessive. Amortized over three years, Casey said the cost in audit and training fees would be about $1,200 a year.

The benefits, however, make this cost worthwhile, Frame and Casey say.

One study by the Institute of Work and Health in BC discovered that businesses with CoR certification have achieved 12 per cent less in lost-time injuries, and 17 per cent in serious injuries, year over year, Casey said.

“And they got the benefit of accessing more work.”

That issue of access may be the most powerful driving force behind CoR certification, as organizations seek to ensure their projects are managed safely and have decided to implement it as a mandatory pre-qualification requirement.

Since you can’t just pick up the phone or send an email, pay the $120 annual fee, and be certified, this gives a distinctive competitive advantage to contractors who have already achieved CoR certification.

“I get calls from contractors wanting to bid on opportunities,” Casey said. The callers tell him: “We need to be CoR certified . . . we need a CoR certificate for Friday,” to meet the bidding deadline.

“This is impossible,” Casey added. “My perspective on this is that in the next four to five years, CoR will be the status quo for competitive bidding, for work, and it will be at all levels, and get to the sub-contractors as well.”

CoR reduces the management risk for contracting organizations, and it fits “fits very nicely with organizations with what could happen, in high risk work, he said. “If hazards and risk as are not being controlled, the hazards will prevail.”

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